The BBC has provoked controversy by giving the British National party a platform for the first time on Question Time, its top current affairs programme.
Nick Griffin, the BNP leader who was elected to the European parliament in June, is expected to be on the show in October. The corporation has decided that the far-right party deserves more airtime because it has demonstrated “electoral support at a national level”.
The move has caused consternation among politicians, with some Labour MPs and at least one cabinet minister pledging to boycott Question Time. They fear the BNP will use the publicity to promote a racist agenda.
The change in policy has also triggered dissent within the BBC. One senior correspondent, who did not want to be named, said: “It’s barmy ... Public servants can be sacked for membership of the BNP and yet the BBC wants to give them airtime with the main political parties.”
The BBC changed its position after the party won two seats at the European elections. Its share of the national vote at that poll was 6.2%. “They got across a threshold that has given them national representation and that fact will be reflected in the level of coverage they will be given,” said Ric Bailey, the BBC’s chief adviser on politics. “This is not a policy about the BNP. It’s a policy about impartiality.”
The decision was approved by Mark Byford, the deputy director-general. David Dimbleby, the show’s host, backed the change.
This weekend the mainstream political parties were divided in their reaction. The Tories and the Liberal Democrats have told the BBC they are prepared to share a platform with the BNP, arguing that its policies must be confronted.
Labour is considering its position. “The custom is that Labour does not share a platform with the BNP, but given the impact of the BBC’s guidelines on our and other mainstream political parties’ position, we are reviewing this,” it said.
One cabinet minister said he would refuse to sit alongside Griffin or other BNP representatives on any BBC panel show: “Nobody’s happy about this. I don’t imagine anyone would be content to go on with them.”
John Mann, Labour chairman of the all-party group on anti-Semitism, said: “It’s absurd to give the BNP any space. This is how Hitler came to power and these people have got the same objectives. It’s typical BBC intellectualism giving them airtime.”